The main purpose of yoga is not to gain muscle, lose weight, or perform high performance. Yoga is a holistic approach to exercise, so it does not focus only on the body, but also on the mind. There are many different types of yoga, but some of the most well-known include hatha yoga, power yoga, Ashtanga yoga and hot yoga. Every year, however, new ways of practicing yoga emerge, as well as changes in which version is currently “in”.
Yoga is mainly known for its postures such as warrior, headstand and pigeon sit. Their purpose is not only to strengthen the body, but also to stretch it in the most natural way possible, gradually allowing the body to move into more difficult and complex postures. In addition to mobility, one of the most important foundations for proper practice and gradual improvement in yoga is a strong core.
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Yoga and core strengthening
To strengthen the centre of the body, it is important to strengthen the abdominal and back muscles. In yoga, we are talking in particular about the deep stabilising muscles, such as the various intercostal muscles and the muscles of the spine, which help us to stand upright or sit up straight.
These muscles are also needed when lifting heavy loads without worrying about injuries and back pain, and they help protect the internal organs. Strengthening these muscles will also help to deepen the breath, which yoga fans will appreciate, and it will also make it easier to sit upright in meditation.
A short yoga routine to strengthen the abdomen
Begin the practice in a high plank, gradually shifting your weight to your feet as you exhale and move into downward facing dog pose, then back to plank as you inhale. In the plank position you can test your stamina and gradually lengthen it. Alternate positions five times, gradually adding reps as you go. Remember to breathe and focus on keeping your back straight, engaging your abdominals and glutes. This strengthens and stretches the back, arms and legs at the same time.
The next exercise is the climber. Starting position is again a high plank, with an exhale bring one knee to the elbow of the same arm, with an inhale return to the original position and continue with an exhale with the other leg. During this exercise, be sure to keep your back straight, your butt should not stick out or slump, and keep your neck in a neutral position. Again, concentrate on engaging the abdominal muscles and correct breathing. Repeat the exercise eight times on each side.
The next position is the sphinx. We move to lying on our stomach and raise our torso, with our forearms on the ground. From this position, we move to the dolphin position. With an exhale, we pull our chin to our chest, look down at our stomach and lift our thighs off the mat, knees, shins and toes still placed on the ground, repeat ten times. On the last repetition, keep the legs extended and push the hips back and up, push the heels down, hold for about five breaths, and finally move into hare (child) position and relax.
We move into a low plank position, forearms on the ground, and roll over to the left side. Extend the right arm upwards with an inhale and extend it down under the left side of the torso with an exhale. With an inhale, extend the arm again. Repeat five times on both sides.
Bow to both sides
For the last exercise, rise from the ground into an upright stance and place both hands behind the head. We will alternate bowing to both sides, inhaling each time while standing upright and exhaling while moving to the sides. Repeat ten times on both sides. Be careful not to lean forward or backward
To release, lie on your back in the dead man’s position and breathe through.
Yoga and back pain
As a general rule, yoga exercises should not be performed despite pain, especially sharp pain. This rule is doubly true for exercises targeting the back and also for people who do not practice regularly or are beginners. This will prevent the muscle from being stretched or even torn. Not only does yoga strengthen the deep back muscles, it also stretches them. The exercises shown below help against round backs and so-called turtle neck, problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle.
Let’s start with the easier exercises first. The starting position for the first exercise is lying on your stomach, with your arms straight, palms touching the mat, legs bent and heels pushing towards your buttocks. This exercise has two variations.
- Variation A: With a breath, perform a chest tuck, lifting the head and shoulders off the mat, looking up while pushing the hips into the mat. In this position, we hold our breath as long as we are comfortable. Exhaling, we place our head and shoulders back on the mat.
- Variation B is done in the same way, but the arms are up, palms facing the ground and no higher than the shoulders. Repeat five times. The exercise strengthens the muscles of the neck, back and legs, counteracts round backs and stretches the front of the torso. After performing it, we will feel less tired. It should not be performed when there are problems with the cervical spine, hernia or high blood pressure.
Another exercise is the so-called superman, i.e. lifting the head and legs. Remaining in a lying position on the stomach, we tighten our arms and put our legs slightly apart, with a breath we bend and lift the head, arms and legs from the ground at the same time. With an exhale, slowly return to the ground, repeating five times. This exercise strengthens the muscles of the back, arms and lower legs and stretches the chest muscles. It helps with low blood pressure and fatigue, but should be used with high blood pressure, dizziness, hernia and back pain.
Raising the trunk
The next exercise is the trunk lift, again starting in a supine position, but this time resting the forearms at shoulder level and grasping the elbows with the head held high and relaxed. We touch the mat with the entire length of our body, including our ankles. With a breath, lift the head, back and pelvis off the mat, the torso should be level and horizontal with the ground, keeping the neck in a neutral position. When performing the exercise, take care not to bend the back. In this position, we hold our breath as long as we feel comfortable. Exhaling, we return to the lying position, relaxing with the head held high. Repeat five times. This exercise benefits breathing and activates the whole body, strengthening the diaphragm, shoulder, back, lumbar and abdominal muscles.
Arrow and bow
The last exercise is the arrow and bow. Rise from the mat to a standing straddle, legs should be spread slightly more than shoulder width apart. Turn the left foot to the left and then turn the head to the left, but keep the torso straight (do not rotate the hips or shoulders). Clench the left arm and make a fist with the thumb extended. The thumb is then kept in view during the exercise. Bring the right hand to the left hand and make a fist with the thumb raised, keeping the thumbs closed. With a breath, we stretch an imaginary bow, pulling the right arm into a crouch, the hand of the right arm should be in the armpit, the elbow is at shoulder height all the time. Hold the breath briefly in this position and with an exhale slowly extend the arm back to the left arm.
Repeat the exercise three times on both sides, it is suitable for round backs, strengthens the muscles of the back, shoulders and arms. As it encourages deep breathing it helps with asthma, improves concentration and exercises the eye muscles.